Having an operation for back pain is a big decision. Outcomes have historically been mixed. Sometimes the patient gets better. Sometimes worse. Sometimes there is no difference. I recently spoke to Jason Motley (45), United Kingdom. He learned the hard way that it takes more than an operation to get rid of the pain.
Jason, what happened?
I slipped my first disc when I was 21 years old and have had pain and disc issues for 18 years. Relapses would happen every three years, sometimes caused by a new slipped disc. My work in a furniture auctioneering business involved moving a lot of furniture, which caused my disc issues.
Things got a lot worse three years ago. So, I was hospitalised for six days and diagnosed with bulging discs at L3, L4, and L5. Still, the NHS (UK public health service) would not authorise a Magnetic Resonance Imaging scan (MRI scan).
A few months later I managed to get an MRI on private insurance through work. I was also given the option of an operation. I decided to have a discectomy (surgical removal of part of the discs) on the L4 and L5 discs. My situation was so bad that an operation seemed the only way forward for me.
What did you do next?
After the operation I walked out of the hospital! What an improvement. I could hardly walk before the operation. I thought that was it. I was cured!
In fact, that was only the start of my recovery process. Plenty of setbacks soon followed, and life was still really challenging. For example, when doing the gardening I needed to do stretches every 30 minutes. Afterwards, I would need to lie down with a hot water bottle. I also needed to lie down at 11 AM every day because my muscles were too weak to keep me up-right.
In addition to the hot water bottle, I sometimes used Tramadol to control my pain, which I would describe as 10 out of 10 during my worst episode pre surgery. On an ongoing basis the pain level would fluctuate between 3 and 7.
I don’t feel I received enough relevant information after the operation for back pain. Sure, there was follow-up physiotherapy but it wasn’t very good. It was just about providing some standard back exercises. It would, for example, have been really useful to know that discs harden after they’ve been operated on. So, they cannot slip again. Had I known that at the time, I would have been more confident exercising.
Unfortunately, I didn’t receive much support from my GP either. Again, lack of useful information and just prescription of painkillers.
So, I turned to the Internet to find information about exercises. Luck would have it that I also found a good local physiotherapist through my online search (see 7 Tips on choosing the right therapists to help you recover from back pain faster). I really liked her attitude. She told me that she wanted to get to the bottom of my issues and that I would get over it. She helped sort out issues with my sacroiliac joint (SI joint) and train me up so I was strong enough to go to the gym. This was done by focusing on core exercises adjusted to my particular situation. The entire process of strengthening up (from pain to no pain) took 2-3 weeks.
Once strong enough, my physiotherapist referred me to a personal trainer, who helped me get my gym routine right.
How are you now?
I have been pain-free for three months and go to the gym four times every week. I do half an hour cardio and then use the resistance machines. The plan is to progress to free weights soon, with the support of my personal trainer.
In fact, I want to take my exercise as far as I can to see how strong I can get. There is no goal any more, as I am already pain-free. I just really enjoy my new routine. I have been given a new lease of life!
… and I have returned fully functional to work.
What has your recovery journey taught you?
An operation for back pain alone did not solve my problem. Correct way of strengthening up was very much part of the solution.
A lot of pain is psychological. By that I mean, each time you feel a twinge you associate it with what has happened before. So, your muscles tense up, which in turn leads to more pain. A negative anchor is created. Any means of relaxing is helpful to counter this.
Finally, access to the right professionals and information is what matters the most.
If you are suffering from back pain, why not discover your own back pain solutions and claim your life back?
If you have already made a lot of progress, or become pain free, why not inspire others by sharing your story?
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